Not Your Happily Ever After

11 February 2021
Hele says staff at a UNFPA safe space helped convince her family to let her go to school rather than be wed. © UNFPA Turkey / Yasin Güngör

Guardian angels may be the stuff of fairytales, but girls in the real world need someone on their side, too. Through a UNFPA-run safe space, Hele, an Iraqi teen migrant living in Turkey, was able to access education. “They convinced [my family] that I should go to school without being a wife.” She is finishing secondary school now and dreaming of going to a university.

ESKİŞEHİR, TURKEY - “If we didn’t come to Turkey and find this center, I would be out of school and subject to a child marriage right now” says Hele, a refugee from Iraq, lives in Eskişehir, Turkey.

Hele is a 16 years old adolescent girl who had fled from Iraq to Turkey in 2017 with her family due to the war. She had to leave the school in the 5th grade.

“In our culture, girls get married at an early age. This is very common especially if the girl is out of education. I don’t want to get married at an early age.” says Hele. Thanks to the Women and Girls Space (WGSS) in Eskişehir, run by UNFPA and its implementing partner Eskişehir Osmangazi University, Hele will be able to continue her education in Turkey. “They have first gained trust of my family and then convinced them that I should go to the school without being a wife to someone at this age. My life has completely changed” she says.

Having fled to Turkey in 2017, she was about thirteen years old. She grew up into a world in which girls might feel worthless, didn’t have the equal opportunities with boys such as the right to education, often forced by families and communities to stay at home and limit their movements and interactions with the outside world, and even encouraged to get married at child age. When they first moved to Turkey everything was the same until they met with UNFPA’s humanitarian aid services and the change started. 

Hele attends complementary courses at Eskişehir WGSS in order to complete her secondary school degree. © UNFPA Turkey / Yasin Güngör

“The first months were so difficult. I didn’t speak or write the language. My family felt insecure and didn’t even let us go outside. They didn’t even plan to send us back to school and we would probably end up getting married at child age. Then, I heard that there was a center which provided Turkish language courses. We went to this WGSS with my parents and they attended an orientation training, organized for refugees and migrants. At this point, a ray of hope arose but after was beyond that I imagined.”

As she learns the language and is empowered with the services offered by the center, her fear of getting married at an early age vanishes and turns out to be a dream of studying in a university suddenly. 

“My parents trusted the center and acknowledged that their services are just not beneficial if not life-changing in a very good way. They let me attend Turkish courses as well as complementary courses for completing my school degree. I did not only learn how to speak Turkish but also started attending preparatory courses to finish secondary school remotely. There is more. I have attended theatre and archery courses and made many friends. I have gained my self-confidence back.”

Hele is now dreaming of studying in a university and gaining an occupation to enable her help people just like UNFPA has helped her. 

The Women and Girls Safe Space project aims to empower women and girls including refugees and migrants by providing sexual and reproductive health services, prevention and response to gender based violence, psychosocial support and activities such as language and occupation courses, training, crafting, theatre, picnics etc. thanks to the financial support of SIDA - Sweden’s government agency for development cooperation.

Hele also benefits from sexual and reproductive health services at Eskişehir WGSS. © UNFPA Turkey / Yasin Güngör